Following the resignation of the Cabinet Secretary for Health Michael Matheson given the long running scandal over his £11,000 iPad expenses – subject to a parliamentary investigation which is likely to be damning – the First Minister Humza Yousaf undertook a reshuffle.
This wasn’t the first resignation of the week as the Minister for Alcohol and Drugs, Elena Whitham, quit her post for health reasons.
While the reshuffle did not see any new faces around the Cabinet table, two new members joined the government at junior ministerial level, while serving Cabinet Secretaries were shifted to new portfolios or had responsibilities added to existing briefs.
The First Minister chose to tilt the gender balance of his Cabinet, with seven of the ten posts now being occupied by women. The Scottish Government believe this is the highest proportion in the world.
There was some speculation that Yousaf’s main opponent in last year’s leadership election Kate Forbes would rejoin government but she remains on the backbenches. A more Machiavellian FM might have offered her the poisoned chalice of Health; and any wise politician with eyes on the top prize would be sensible to spurn such an offer.
Scottish Government Cabinet: Key Changes
Key Yousaf ally Neil Gray, a former BBC journalist and MP, takes charge at Health only three years after first being elected to the Scottish Parliament. Gray previously worked for the former Health Secretary Alex Neil.
The First Minister credited him on his moves to reset the relationship with businesses – although many might question whether New Deal principles have been adhered to – but Gray leaves the Economy portfolio in the hands of Mairi McAllan. She was also part of the 2021 intake and will retain some of her previous responsibilities by becoming Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy. The First Minister said this was driven by the need to seize the opportunities for new green jobs to drive sustainable growth.
Fiona Hyslop, a veteran from previous Sturgeon and Salmond administrations, rejoins Cabinet as her Transport brief is elevated to a standalone Cabinet Secretary role, reflecting the major challenges over ferries but also providing much needed experience.
New Junior Ministers
Kaukab Stewart, a former teacher, becomes the first woman of colour to enter the Scottish Government as Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development. This is in place of Christina McKelvie, who has been appointed as Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy.
Jim Fairlie, a sheep farmer representing Perthshire South and Kinross-shire, also joins the government as Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity and is one of the few backers of Kate Forbes to hold a government post. Might this be an attempt at an olive branch?
Meanwhile, Gillian Martin – the Minister for Energy – had Fair Work and Just Transition added to her responsibilities. Many in the north east of Scotland where she represents will wonder what ‘Just Transition’ means in practice.
What Happens Next?
Ministers-designate Kaukab Stewart and Jim Fairlie, as well as Cabinet Secretary-designate Fiona Hyslop, will be subject to parliamentary approval during a vote in the Scottish Parliament following recess.
While you shouldn’t expect any surprises in terms of that formal process, the First Minister will be keen to avoid any further surprises amongst his top team as he looks to try and salvage his premiership.